March 16, 2020 – I’m a therapist who treats anxiety. I’m also a mom and this is what I’m telling my own kids about COVID-19 also known as coronavirus:
Yes, this is a new virus and sometimes something new can be seen as scary, especially in an age of technology in which we do not have all of the answers. You, just like your children, have a right to feel scared at times given all of the information both fact and fiction that is being pushed through various media platforms.
Remember, your children will learn how to cope and manage their fears from you. You are their role model and if this is a worry for them, they will look to you to understand and manage their fears.
It is your responsibility to help them better understand the information they are receiving. They have little experience in managing stress and information. They need you now.
Children of all ages will have common fear-based questions related to COVID-19. Remember your child’s level of understanding is based on their age, past experience with fear and current life challenges.
Make a point to sit down with your child and ask them what they know about this new virus, ask them what questions they have and what facts and/or rumors they have heard.
Listening to what your child says can be powerful. It can create a strong relationship between you and your child. When your child feels able to express big emotion (like fear) and the thoughts behind them, a greater depth of trust has just been established. Depending on their age, their fears and or questions may seem silly, not connected and minimal to you.
It is important to remember that children understand the world very differently, at different ages, because of brain development and personal experiences. To them, their thoughts and fears are very strong and very real. LISTEN to them.
Once they have shared their thoughts and feelings, validate them.
Say things like:
“Wow, that sounds scary for you”
“I’m sorry to hear you have been worrying so much about this”
Let them know what you appreciate they shared and express empathy to them about what they are experiencing.
Do NOT say:
“I’ll do the worrying for you”
Statements like these are felt by a child as if their worry is not important to you. Statements like these can keep a child feeling less in control than before and even feeling “more stuck” which can then exacerbate worrying thoughts and behaviors.
TALK/CONTROL THE NARRATIVE:
This is a great opportunity to talk about this virus and help them with an appropriate and accurate narrative.
Questions to ask your child:
“What have you heard or read about this virus?”
If you, as a parent are not worried, you can says things like:
“I am not worried, you can be worried and I want you to tell me when you have worry thoughts so we can talk about them, but right now I am going to work on making sure you wash your hands, stop touching your face and practice being mindful of those who might be sick around you”
Let them know “There are things in our control and we, as a family are going to focus on those (aka: prevention and planning).”
This is a great opportunity to involve your kids, of any age, in age appropriate planning and
prevention. Kids love to be in control and just like adults, when they have some answers, have a trusted source to confide in, and can ‘do something’, their worry will lessen.
Use this opportunity to teach them about the importance of information gathering, using trusted sources of information and recognizing when they are feeling information fatigue. Get them involved in prevention and planning around the house, just like you would for fire and disaster preparation.
©️Rebecca Dougherty-Froelke, MSW, LCSW – Therapist
Mental Health Specialist Missouri Disaster Response Team, SEMA
Dr. Lena Pearlman & Associates
655 Craig Road, Suite 300, St. Louis, MO 63141